Feature Photo: Anthony Alford, CF, Blue Jays
Can you believe we’re almost into May? As expected, the minor league season is steamrolling along and prospects are already beginning to distance themselves from of the pack. In our second weekly column, we’re taking a look at the first Southern League perfect game since 1970; a top Blue Jays’ prospect making himself a name in Double-A New Hampshire; and a Brewers’ prospect who just can’t seem to stop hitting. We also take a few more stops in our look around the minor leagues.
And, what’s this? A pitcher hitting a home run in Biloxi? You heard it right. It’s just one of the many snippets you have to look forward to as we continue on with highlights from week two of Minor League Roulette.
Minor League Roulette
Players Who Stood Out for Emily
Ht/Wt: 6’1” / 215 B/T: R/R Age (as of April 1, 2017): 22y, 9m
Season Stats: .467/.547/.600, 21 H, 3 2B, 4 RBIs
Week in Review: Where most hitters struggle to make the transition into Double-A, Alford has welcomed the challenge with open arms. Hitting just below .500 through 12 games with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, the 22-year-old outfielder has an active hit streak of six games, totaling 11 hits. Already establishing himself as an asset in center field with plenty of athleticism for the position, Alford’s consistency at the plate builds his value that much more quickly within the Blue Jays’ farm system. A dangerous aspect to the makeup of Alford at the plate is as he continues to build confidence, the game remains fun, and if Alford continues having this much ‘fun’ at the plate, we shouldn’t expect him to stay put in Double-A for very long. (Video by Mark Shreve).
Week in Review: Since surfacing as the Detroit Tigers top pick (#22 overall) as a teenager in the 2015 MLB Draft, Burrows has been working to find his footing as a pro, and kicking off 2017, he’s settling in rather nicely. Over four starts, the 20-year-old right-hander has begun his campaign with High A Lakeland, allowing just a pair of runs over 22 1/3 innings for a 0.81 ERA. Burrows struggled with locating his pitches in 2016 with Class A West Michigan and while he was able to keep the ball in the park (just two home runs in 97 innings last year), his trend of letting hitters see the bottom half of the ball is continuing into 2017, with a 0.74 GO:AO ratio to-date, which is a ration he’ll need to work on as he sees more advanced bats at the higher levels. On the plus side, the righty has seen his strikeout rate bump from 5.7 SO/9 in 2016 to 8.5 SO/9 with the Flying Tigers. (Video by James Chipman)
Week in Review: At just 22 years old, Mahle (younger brother of Angels Triple-A LHP Greg Mahle) has already built quite the resume for himself, and 2017 looks to only add to it. Working a fastball known to touch as high as 96 mph, Mahle displays his maturity through an ability to add and subtract to the offering, and making it a real weapon as part of a solid four-pitch mix. Through four starts for Double-A Pensacola, Mahle has been perfect in more ways than one. Standing at 4-0 on the year, Mahle is also leading the Wahoos with an 0.67 ERA, an 0.45 WHIP and 27 strikeouts over 26 2/3 innings. To top it off, Mahle was able to go the distance after flirting with a perfect game in two of his previous starts. The right-hander posted the first nine-inning perfect game in the Southern League since 1970, striking out eight on just 88 pitches (68 for strikes) on Saturday, April 22 in a 1-0 victory over the Mobile BayBears.
Here’s a Player to Watch
Week in Review: A first-round grab by the Mariners in 2014 (#6 overall), there was some debate about positioning Jackson as a catcher (his high school position) or trying him in the outfield. After being traded to the Braves (along with a PTBNL for RHP Max Povse and RHP Rob Whalen) on 11/28/16, Jackson is back in the outfield, and flourishing at the plate since the start of the 2017 season. Posting .300 ISO for the High A Fire Frogs over 16 games, the 21-year-old has now gone deep in three of his last four games, pacing him for a 30+ home-run year, and flirting with a pace of doubling his RBI count from last season’s 55 RBI campaign at Class A Clinton in the Midwest League. His strikeout percentage has actually dropped to 24.2%, so while not ideal, it’s at least heading in the right direction at the next level. Jackson has established that the power is accessible, and it should only increase his value as his recognition of secondaries and plate discipline continue to develop.
Players Who Stood Out to Jared
Week in Review: The Brewers’ farm system boasts a surfeit of intriguing outfield prospects, and Brinson is among the best of them. He spent parts of 2015 and 2016 in the Pacific Coast League, and Brinson has thrived at the plate in each visit. Since last Sunday, Brinson has had four multi-hit games and has homered twice. His best appearance so far came last Tuesday against the Memphis Redbirds, when he went 4-for-6 with a home run and five runs batted in. Brinson came to the Brewers as the centerpiece of last summer’s trade-deadline deal that sent Jonathan Lucroy (C, Rangers) to Texas.
Week in Review: Granted, Anderson pitched just 2 2/3 innings in the Short-Season A NY-Penn League last year following his third-round selection out of the University of Florida, but those are innings he is probably glad to erase. After opposing hitters lit him up for nine runs and hung a 30.38 ERA on him in 2016, Anderson has turned around and given South Atlantic League hitters virtually nothing to work with this season. Through four starts, he is surrendering just a .176 batting average. In his most recent start, Anderson threw six scoreless innings and gave up just two hits.
Luis Urias, 2B, Padres (Double-A San Antonio, Texas League)
Ht/Wt: 5’9” / 160 B/T: R/R Age: (as of April 1, 2017): 19y, 10m
Season Stats: .357/.419/.661, 5 2B, 3 3B, 2 HRs
2080 Report (2016) | 2080 Spotlight (2016)
Week in Review: Urias got off to a bit of a slow start, but the second baseman has ramped up his offensive efforts of late. He had three consecutive multi-hit games going into Saturday, including back-to-back four hit games in which he hit three doubles, two triples, and drove in three runs. Urias won’t turn 20 until June, and he is getting his first look at Double-A pitching this year, so the ebbs and flows he has shown the plate so far might continue. Urias has hit well at every level he has seen since signing with the Padres in 2014, including a very brief three-game stint with Triple-A El Paso last July.
Here’s a Player to Watch
Week in Review: At 25 years old and still pitching below Double-A, LeBlanc would probably not otherwise garner a lot of attention, but after his start last Sunday April 16 against Daytona, LeBlanc had pitched 31 consecutive scoreless innings – a streak that goes back to his last three starts of 2016, including two with Double-A Chattanooga of the Southern League at the end of last season. LeBlanc struggled against Florida State League hitters last year, posting a 4.70 ERA in 69 innings, but so far, the 2017 season has looked much better for him.
Statistical Highlights From Around the Minor Leagues
- Eduardo de Oleo (C, Astros) hit three home runs in four at bats on Friday for High A Buies Creek in the Carolina League. The six-year minor leaguer has been struggling to get playing time, and he was making just his second start of the season.
- Gabe Speier (LHP, Diamondbacks) did what no Double-A Jackson pitcher has done since 2006, sending a solo home run out over the left field wall, his first career home run. Speier went on to collect the win, tossing 3 ⅓ scoreless innings in relief, striking out four.
- Rafael Devers (3B, Red Sox) is adjusting to Double-A pitching without too many issues. Still just 20 years old, Devers is raking for the Portland Sea Dogs over his first 51 plate appearances. Though he’s cooled off by gong 1-for-10 in his last three games, the Red Sox’ top prospect is slashing .320/.333/.480 for the season, though the power has yet to come.
- Clint Frazier, the top outfield prospect in the Yankees’ system, has had a quiet start to his first Triple-A campaign with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in the International League, but he broke out a bit on April 22 with a home run, single, walk, and stolen base, says Alex Kraft of Mlb.com. He’s making some adjustments at the pate that he thinks will start to show up in the numbers. Over his first 44 games, Frazier is slashing just .212./.317/.343 over his first 52 at-bats, playing errorless ball in both left and right field for Scranton.
Key Minor League Transactions
- Jorge Bonifacio (OF, Royals) was recalled from Triple-A Omaha on Friday in an effort to kick start Kansas City’s struggling offense. Bonifacio had been slashing .314/.386/.608 with three home runs, two doubles, and two triples in the Pacific Coast League.
- Shortstop and top Yankees’ prospect Gleyber Torres was placed on the seven-day DL with right biceps tendinitis, according to Kyle Franco of The Trentonian.
- Oakland Athletics right-handed pitching prospect Daulton Jefferies is headed under the knife for season-ending Tommy John surgery. Jefferies had shoulder issues while pitching for the University of California that plunged his draft stock last year, but he had pitched well for High A Stockton thus far, as 2080’s Melissa Lockard recently wrote about in a 2080 Prospect Spotlight.
Notes of Interest
- Credit these guys for the effort, but after Phil Simms was replaced at CBS Sports by Tony Romo, the Double-A Frisco RoughRiders of the Texas League offered him a gig by suggesting that he had already taken it.
- Mike Hessman (INF, five MLB years for three teams 2003-2010), the minor league home run king who even inspired a country song, now works as a hitting instructor for the Class A West Michigan Whitecaps of the Midwest League. Hey, Crash Davis never got a song written about him.
What We’re Reading
- We don’t cover MLB too much here at 2080, but we had to mention Sports Illustrated senior writer Tom Verducci’s excellent book out on the Chicago Cubs’ run to the 2016 World Series, The Cubs Way: The Zen Of Building The Best Team In Baseball And Breaking The Curse. An excerpt, courtesy of S.I., provides an excellent read on the role of baseball operations and scouting plays on a successful team, and can be found here.
- Carson Cistulli from Fangraphs shares five prospects on the fringe we should be keeping an eye on, including Tampa Bay Rays’ prospect who has shown peculiar defensive flexibility and a swing that’s been modeled after Jose Bautista (OF, Blue Jays).
- It’s hard to find a former Tigers media member name better known than Tom Gage, and now he shares his The Big 50: Detroit Tigers: The Men and Moments that Made the Detroit Tigers, sharing moments that built the organization’s history in the Motor City. The book is available for purchase here.